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Take a tour of Osgoode Hall

Take a tour of Osgoode Hall

By: Teresa Donnelly | March 31, 2022

The Law Society of Ontario is celebrating its 225th anniversary this year. In recognition, we will be sharing stories of some of the events and milestones that have shaped Ontario’s rich legal heritage, as well as the significance of historic Osgoode Hall.

I hope you will enjoy learning about the history of our professions through this series of blogs as much as I have while writing them. I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time at Osgoode Hall, first as a bencher and now, as Treasurer. No matter how many days I spend in its hallowed halls, I remain sincerely grateful for the opportunity to work in the same building, on the same plot of land that has born witness to historical decisions and the creation of policies that have shaped the law, the provision of legal services and the practice of law as we know it today.

Spring is in the air and as restrictions lift, I am looking forward to returning to Osgoode Hall more regularly. Named a National Historic Site of Canada, Osgoode Hall has been delighting visitors since the mid-19th century. As the home of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, the Superior Court of Justice and the Law Society of Ontario, it is the hub of legal activity in downtown Toronto. It is also an historic and architectural gem. Surrounded by mature trees, lush, landscaped gardens and enclosed by a regal “iron palisade” fence, Osgoode Hall is truly a sliver of the past set against the backdrop of a modern urban environment. It’s no surprise then that since the nineteenth century, tourists have marvelled over Osgoode Hall.

Sit back, relax and take a virtual tour
While the beauty of this historic property can be best appreciated in-person, the Law Society has created an app and a number of virtual exhibits to share the building and grounds’ historic significance. Whether you are near or far you can see the sights and learn the history of Osgoode Hall and Ontario’s legal heritage by taking a virtual tour from the comfort of your home.

Start with the Osgoode Hall app where you’ll find a growing collection of tours on artistic, historical and legal themes. You’ll be able to explore Osgoode Hall inside and out, from the Great Library, to Convocation Hall, the Benchers’ Quarters and through to the McMurtry Gardens of Justice. Learn about the history of the architecture, portraiture and more in this comprehensive tour.

Click here to view the app online or for optimal experience, use the QR code below to download it on your phone.

lso-qr-code-photo

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From inspiration to historic designation
Next, follow along as this exhibition, curated in partnership with the Archives of Ontario, takes you through the grounds of Osgoode Hall from the original need for the building, the architect’s vision, through to its multi-phased construction and completion. This exhibition is the quintessential overview of how one of the best-preserved and best-documented historical structures in Ontario came to be. Click here to visit the exhibit.

Front elevation - Osgoode Hall
Front elevation of Osgoode Hall, June 1855
Hopkins, Lawford & Nelson
J. C. B. and E. C. Horwood Collection
Reference Code: C 11-483-0-1, 453(5)
Archives of Ontario

Touring Osgoode Hall in the 1800s
When you’re done with your modern-day virtual exploration of Osgoode Hall, I invite you to tour through the eyes of an 1879 visitor.

When Montreal lawyer John Monk visited Toronto in early June 1879, he wrote home to his wife about his time spent at Osgoode Hall. Referring to it to as a magnificent building, that “would do credit to any country,” Monk’s recounting of his time spent at Osgoode Hall is an insightful and entertaining look at tourism in the nineteenth century. Click here to visit the exhibit.

Osgoode-hall-postcard
A postcard of Osgoode Hall from 1912
Law Society of Ontario archives

The grounds of Osgoode Hall
The historic buildings of Osgoode Hall aren’t the only spectacles deserving of a tour. Right from 1828, when the Law Society of Upper Canada purchased the six-acre lot to build on, creating inviting landscaped grounds was central to the complete vision of Osgoode Hall. In fact, when the Law Society purchased the land, it was in part so law students could get fresh air and exercise.

The iron palisade
The grounds have changed over time, but continue to be a favourite spot for downtowners looking for some fresh air and green space. On any given day, you can catch people out for a walk or relaxing under one of the mature trees on the lawn. Enclosing the space is an iron fence, or “iron palisade,” as it has been referred to, and its famous kissing gates. The origins of the gates are often the subject of tall tales from tour guides and taxi drivers, with theories ranging from keeping cattle out to keeping out potential invasions.


Osgoode Hall, Iron Palisade and gates, [ca. 1856]-1866
J. C. B. and E. C. Horwood Collection
Reference Code: C 11-702-0-3(649)
Archives of Ontario, AO9130

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Curious about the true origins of the kissing gates? Learn more about the history of the iconic iron palisade  and separate fact from fiction by taking a virtual tour on the Osgoode Hall app.

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